The equality watchdog is conducting an internal investigation into allegations that a director requested names of ethnic minority staff that could be asked to join the British National Party (BNP).
A source told Personnel Today that the director asked colleagues in a teleconference to identify employees at the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) from black and ethnic minority backgrounds who could be asked to join the far-right BNP.
The EHRC allegedly wanted to gather evidence that the BNP refused membership to minority applicants, in the build up to its legal case against the party’s rules. The far-right party has subsequently agreed to change its constitution and membership rules.
In a letter to Personnel Today, the source said: “[The director] clearly ignored the legal, ethical and public safety implication of [his or her] advice. We have learnt that all staff present in the teleconference rejected the advice of [the director] and have officially complained against [that person].”
Personnel Today contacted members of staff allegedly involved in the teleconference, who confirmed the incident was currently being investigated, but refused to provide further details.
The source claimed the staff involved in the teleconference have since been “treated with suspicion” and labelled “troublemakers”.
“Some directors have even chosen to make derogatory remarks against [the staff] rather than taking any firm action against [the director],” the source added.
Jeya Thiruchelvam, employment law editor at XpertHR, warned the alleged actions by the director could constitute race discrimination.
She said: “Ironically, the act of requesting or instructing non-white employees to join the BNP, even if the aim is to highlight the assertion that the BNP is continuing to restrict its membership on racial grounds, and is therefore inherently racist, may well constitute direct race discrimination.
“This is because you have a situation where employees are being selected on the grounds of their race (or ethnic or national origin) and being treated less favourably – by being requested to a join a far-right extremist political party – than their white colleagues.”
An EHRC spokeswoman did not deny the allegations, but said: “An internal investigation is ongoing at the moment. It is not, and has never been, the policy of the commission to encourage anyone to join or attempt to join the BNP. The commission has never authorised anyone to issue any such instructions.”
Pressure grows on EHRC chairman
Meanwhile, the behaviour of the EHRC’s chairman, Trevor Phillips, is under scrutiny by the Joint Committee on Human Rights, following accusations he “isolated” and “intimidated” other commissioners, some of whom subsequently resigned. Phillips is due to give evidence to the committee of MPs on 10 November.
Story updated at 15.32pm on 30 October